Insider’s Guide to Santa Cruz, California
As a self-proclaimed city girl, I have always preferred skyscrapers to seashores. I got from point A to point B by car or by cab. I had so much anxiety over the possibility of stepping on grass because of how “gross and moist” it felt. I avoided slow walkers like the plague. I didn't go on my first hike until I was 21. I fell asleep listening to the shouts and sirens of the outside world. It wasn't noise. It was a lullaby. All things considered, no one was more surprised than I was when I uprooted my life and moved to a town that contradicted all of that. Hello Santa Cruz, California.
Growing up in an extremely westernized community, I lived off of McDonalds and other big fast food chains for most of the 90s. My parents both worked so they barely had any time to always make proper, healthy meals for us. In most cities, franchising is key. It’s true what they say: There’s a Starbucks in every corner. This cannot be said about Santa Cruz. I have only ever been to one McDonalds and if ever there was another one at a different part of town, it must have been tucked away neatly because I never saw it. In Santa Cruz, small, independently owned businesses are the norm. Even though we do have a Chipotle, it is situated in an area that isn’t as easily accessible as the taquerias scattered all over downtown. I have never had a better, more authentic taco than that of my weekly dose of Los Pericos.
Even if we move away from the food industry, there is a similar pattern of valuing local work and craftsmanship over mass-produced merchandises. For example, Bunny’s is a shoe store that also does repairs. Unlike the Forever 21 that’s strategically right next to it, Bunny’s shoes and services aren’t cheap. The difference is that Bunny’s products last for years instead of coming out at the seams within a couple months of purchasing them. Additionally, when I got here, the Barnes & Noble had just closed down because it didn’t make enough money but Bookshop Santa Cruz stood the test of time and is still every college student’s go-to for required reading texts (They just celebrated their 40th birthday).
Santa Cruz’s appreciation for authenticity and uniqueness extends to its natural beauty and resources. Even its most famous tourist attraction, The Mystery Spot, is located in the middle of the redwoods. It is a not-so-natural vortex-like location where spectators can witness gravitational anomalies. Admittedly, I dismissed it as just another tourist spot for children but it was surprisingly entertaining. If it’s not your cup of tea though and you just want time to admire the redwoods, there are a couple of state parks in Santa Cruz – Big Basin being my favorite.
The first beach I discovered in Santa Cruz was Seabright Beach. It is also where I first bonded with my roommates. We had a good old-fashioned bonfire and gazed at the stars until the cops kicked us out. That’s one more thing you never get in the city – the stars. It is never dark enough to see them so I had forgotten how humbling it was to watch them stare down at us.
Santa Cruz is probably the surfing mecca of California. I cannot remember a time when I went to the beach without witnessing a surfing competition. In fact, most of the “luxury” or more expensive stores in Santa Cruz sell surfing gear. I have yet to get over my fear of large bodies of water but every time I need to vent or calm down, I always head for Pleasure Point Beach. There are always a lot of surfers there, possibly because it’s a bit further away from the crowd so it’s more isolated than the wharf downtown. When I watch them, calmness washes over me. It is the same feeling I get when I’m looking at the stars. It’s a good reminder that you and your problems are small compared to everything else out there.
Not wanting to miss out entirely, I turned to hiking instead. Don’t get me wrong; this was also difficult because I’m painfully afraid of heights. (Now I’m wondering if I get to blame the city for all my irrational fears…) If you’re like me, even brisk walking gives you burning sensations in your lungs. To begin hiking, I suggest starting off at West Cliff Drive. It’s a 3-mile stretch of mostly flat land so it’s good practice for beginners. There are benches along the way for breaks, if needed. It is also over a beach so the view will appease your pain. If you’re feeling like advancing to a harder hike, take it up a notch and visit Natural Bridges. There’s more elevation in that area and rocks you can easily climb surround the iconic arch. For a true test of perseverance, Garden of Eden is a short but steep climb. Actually, going down was easy. You are rewarded with a small waterfall once you get there. It’s the return hike that you need to survive. If I can do it, so can you!
The City vs. The Country
Though I am a firm believer of embracing your roots and your past, I can honestly say that “the country” has changed me for the better. For someone who grew up accustomed to a fast-paced life, I am now in less of a hurry. I no longer get angry at people who don’t function similarly. I see the value in products that may cost more but also endure more. Buying from locally owned businesses not only supports the concept of individuality but also promotes community building. I push my limits and face my fears and anticipate that both of these take time and patience. But most importantly, Santa Cruz has taught me that travel isn’t just about crazy and exciting adventures. It is also about getting to know yourself better, enhancing your skills, and feeding your soul.
By Ysabella Singson